Collectors gather at the 2021 UFDC Convention in Baltimore for presentations, workshops, and more.
Collectors gather at the 2021 UFDC Convention in Baltimore for presentations, workshops, and more.

In looking back at the events of the last year, we wanted to provide as many different perspectives as possible. So we invited several artists, retailers, and doll manufacturers to share their memories from the past year, including both personal highlights and their thoughts about the doll world in general, and what they’re looking forward to in 2022.

Internet Lifelines

Like everyone else in the world, dollmakers and doll collectors had to find new ways to reach out to each other in 2020. As the global pandemic forced shows and clubs to cancel in-person events, the internet — already a key communications tool for hobbyists and professionals — became a vital part of the doll community. By the time we made it to 2021, online shows, classes, video meetings, and more were readily available to anyone with a smartphone, tablet, or computer.

“Even now, with shows and clubs and other businesses opening up again, the internet is still going to be an important aspect of the collecting world,” artist Beverly Stoehr said. “A few shops and clubs and others in the doll world asked me if they should go the internet route, and I said to all of them, ‘run and don’t look back.’

“I feel the intenet is the best thing that has happened to the doll world — have you ever thought how many shut-ins are never able to get to doll events? Or people who live in an area with no doll clubs or shows or shops? The internet has opened up this world for them. Look at the online conventions — Rachel Hoffman’s was a huge hit. I feel this is the best thing is going on in the doll world — even doll clubs are online for meetings and are able to get new members.”

Artist April Norton also noted that online shopping has remained strong, even as stores have opened up again. “It has been super gratifying that the collectible market seems to be on the rise and collectors appreciate a handmade item like my dolls. “The popularity of porcelain dolls continues to grow, perhaps in part because of the auctions by the Dianna Effner family.”

Dianna Effner's personal collection, including artist prototypes and other examples of her own work.
Dianna Effner’s personal collection, including artist prototypes and other examples of her own work.

Although she passed away Oct. 14, 2020, Effner remains an important part of the doll collecting world, both through her own creations and through the many artists that she taught and mentored. Her family offered many dolls from Effner’s personal collection for auction starting in September 2021. “It is bittersweet, since Dianna is no longer with us,” artist Brenda Mize said, who, like Norton, creates porcelain dolls using molds by Effner. “All of the dolls that I have purchased through the auction mean the world to me, and I will treasure them always.”

Supply-Chain Challenges

One thing the internet can’t do is move actual, physical items from one place to another. In addition to disruptions caused by the pandemic, weather events and transport issues around the globe presented dollmakers with new challenges. Snarled shipping made getting products from factories overseas more difficult, with delays and often extra expenses. Even artists producing in the U.S. had to deal with things like resin shortages or difficulty getting supplies of polymer clay at various times during the year. Some artists switched to a different sculpting medium that was more readily available, or stretched their supplies by focusing on making smaller dolls.

Even large, well-established doll companies like Madame Alexander had to face additional hurdles in getting dolls into the hands of kids and older collectors. Julie Jurrjens, the company’s VP, Brand Development, said, “Shipping and supply chain was the biggest challenge for all of the toy industry. Madame Alexander delivered on our retailers’ expectations by being in-stock and on-time in shipping, unlike many of our competitors. Our operations team really went above and beyond to make sure it was a happy holiday for doll lovers in 2021!

Madame Alexander won a Good Housekeeping Best Toy Award in 2021 for the Peekaboos doll line.
Madame Alexander won a Good Housekeeping Best Toy Award in 2021 for the Peekaboos doll line.

Madame Alexander also maintained their dedication to making quality dolls, as well. “We won a Good Housekeeping Best Toy Award for 2021 for our Peekaboos dolls. These are dolls for newborns and up with a plush animal hoodie that can be pulled up or down for the child to play ‘peekaboo,’ Jurrjens said.

So Nice to See You!

Even as we polished our online skills, 2021 saw the return of in-person events. “I was very excited in 2021 about being able to attend two doll shows in person,” said Edith Schmidt, who creates doll fashions. “I enjoyed seeing and visiting with everyone. Of course, there were adjustments made to keep everyone involved safe at the shows as well as all the unseen heroes who worked hard to keep us comfortable. Travel had its moments, but with a bit of patience we all managed to survive and go home with pleasant memories.”

The Doll Peddlar’s Judy Johnson agreed. “I think the highlight of 2021 is having live doll shows, where we can visit each other and play with our dolls. We enjoy being with collectors and getting their ideas, news, and even complaints. Emails just can’t compare with face-to-face.”

A UFDC convention workshop in progress.
A UFDC convention workshop in progress.

Indeed, collectors, artists, and others we spoke to at the United Federation of Doll Clubs (UFDC) and Modern Doll Collectors conventions seemed extra happy just to be able to attend the 2021 shows. There were plenty of eager shoppers in the sales room and joyful conversations between people who were making new friends or renewing old acquaintances.

We’ve got great online tools to support a far-flung doll-collecting community and we can meet together in person? Where will things go from here next year? We’ll take a look at the doll world’s prospects for 2022 next week!